Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has vowed to oppose a July 31 election date set by President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai has called for reforms to the media and security forces before polls are held.
President Mugabe issued a presidential decree on Thursday, bypassing parliament and scheduling general elections for the end of July. He informed Prime Minister Tsvangirai, his main political rival, by letter.
"Given the deadline imposed by the Constitutional Court, it is inexpedient to await the passage through parliament of an act dealing with the situation," Mugabe said in an official government notice.
The Constitutional Court had ruled last month that elections had to be held by the end of July. Opposition members have accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF loyalists of instigating the lawsuit that resulted in the decision. The mandate of the current power-sharing government, which came to power after disputed elections in 2008, is scheduled to end on June 29.
Tsvangirai accused Mugabe on Thursday of violating Zimbabwe's current power-sharing agreement, saying that the president had acted "unilaterally and unconstitutionally."
"Mugabe is deliberately precipitating a constitutional crisis," Tsvangirai told a news conference in the capital, Harare.
"In order to avoid a constitutional crisis, we can go to the same court and review its decision," he said. "There is no option but to review the decision."
Supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) want the polls to be held later, so that reforms of the media and security forces can be implemented, in the hope of preventing electoral fraud.
"We want to remove all obstacles to a free and fair election," Tsvangirai said on Wednesday. "If ZANU-PF wants to roughshod us, I will just stand up and say I will not agree with you."
Mugabe, 89, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.
slk/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)